Wednesday, July 11, 2012

"What is Journal Access Like in an Industrial Setting?"

A semi-anonymous individual left a comment in yesterday's post "I was wondering how subscriptions to journals work in an industrial setting. Do you have at least some journal subscriptions available?"

Having worked for a range of companies, some that have spanned the globe while others have barely spanned the spread of my arms, I've seen lots of different approaches to journal subscriptions in an industrial setting. The confounding aspect in all of this is the time factor - approaches that companies took in the past have undoubtedly changed to at least some degree.

My first job was at Hercules, a company that no longer exists. This was a reasonably good-sized company (multibillion in sales). I was not located at the main research center but at a remote site, so if we needed articles, we could call the company library to have them mailed to us. I also recall that some of the consistently popular journals were put out on a routing list. The biggest issue back then was not getting the articles as the company was willing to pay for them, but instead finding out what articles were even available.

I next went to 3M, which had multiple libraries scattered across most of the buildings on their campus. Pretty much anything you wanted was available or easily accessible. By the time I left there in 2002, internet access to the journals from your desktop was well established.

Since that time I've worked for smaller and ever smaller companies, none of which have had subscriptions to any journals at all. If you've ever looked at the list prices for a few journals, you'll know why. I'm not attempting to pick on any particular publisher, but look at the subscription prices for these key journals in polymer science:

Journal of Polymer Science, Part A or Part B - $20,000.

Polymer - $9,301.

Soft Matter - $2,438.

Polymer Bulletin - $3541.

These are institutional rates, which is what would apply to us here [1]. For a company with only $10 million in sales, we just can't afford that overhead, especially when you consider that we work with more than just polymers. We have metallurgists, analytical chemists, physicists, mechanical engineers...

I do have a personal subscription [2] to the Journal of Rheology ($80) and I couldn't pass up a special price on Nature this past year ($36, but that will increase to $79 this coming year and I'm not sure if I will renew it or not).

The point of this is NOT to rant about high prices, open access or anything else in that arena - simply to state that at a small company, access to the literature is very limited.

So we get creative instead.

It's not very visible [3], but I do have a separate page in this blog where I've listed some of my tricks for accessing the literature for free. These efforts are helpful, but they do require far more work than just being able to click on a link and get an article.

I do see the situation improving over time. The US and the UK are starting efforts to ensure that publicly funded research is freely available, and the editor of Nature magazine just recently stated that open access is "inevitable".

So that's the view from an industrial setting. It all depends greatly on where you work, with the larger companies have the better access, and the smaller companies have little or no access.

I have some additional thoughts on this matter, but I'll post them in a day or two.

[1] From what I read, it is possible to negotiate lower prices, but that would only be an option for large institutions that are looking at multiple journal subscriptions. There is no reason for any publisher to lower the price for a single journal.

[2] Being the only rheologist at this company, it is truly a personal subscription. As soon I start mentioning "storage modulus", my colleagues eye glaze over and... I get the same reaction when I try and tell them about my glory days as an amateur bicycle racer in downstate Illinois, like the time that I chased down breakaway by myself and...

[3] If anyone knows what HTML I need to improve the visibility, I'm all ears.


Salomon T. said...

Here I am again in a less anonymous form. I wish Google allowed me to use my Google profile instead of my blogger one.

Thanks so much for the writeup. I suspected that access to the literature would change depending if you work at Dow or the latest start up. It is clear that a small company with a variety of expertise and interests would have trouble accessing the variety of journals available.

I never had to worry about access in academia but I better get ready to adjust depending on where I end in an industrial setting.

Daniel K said...

Of course after Academia most settings are far from paradise. At BASF we do have most journals accesible via online subscriptions. What we don‘t get per subscription we can order as DRM-ed PDF or via Fax, and it‘s about 35 € per paper. And of course in our central research unit we have a few journals (like Angewandte, Advanced Materials, etc.} in paper form, too, circulating the offices.

John said...


Thanks for commenting again. (Anonymity and pseudonyms don't bother me at all, unless the comments are just plain crass insults,...). Literature access is something to take into account in any new employment situation, and yet I'll bet HR never even sees it on their radar when recruiting new employees with advanced degrees.